Sunday 25 October 2015

COMMENTARY: Benjamin Netanyahu’s Struggle with History

Haj Amin al-Hussein (Left) in conference with Adolf Hitler
Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments made before a gathering at the 37th Zionist Congress of the World Zionist Organisation on October 20th which effectively blamed the Palestinian nationalist leader, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem for instigating the Holocaust have been met with widespread incredulity. The Israeli prime minister has been alternately ridiculed and condemned.

This is not surprising since Netanyahu was attempting to twist the largely accepted narrative of the development of the holocaust in order to suit the contemporary agenda of demonizing the cause for Palestinian self-determination as well as suggesting a malignant link between Islam and fascist-Nazi ideology.

But while Netanyahu’s comments have led to plausible accusations of his falling foul of what often is referred to as ‘holocaust denial’, they also invite an examination of Zionism’s collaborations and even affinities with fascist movements and the Hitlerian regime itself.

His comments also provide insight into the mindset of the man as well as offering clues as to how he might see an ultimate resolution of the seemingly intractable conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s words, delivered in his distinctive Philadelphian drawl, were enunciated with the now familiar casual intonation. But the conversational-style of oratory did not disguise the import of the point that he was attempting to get across.

Beginning with a reference to the Mufti’s alleged role in directing violence against Jewish settlers in British-ruled Palestine, Netanyahu, said that al-Husseini had been sought for “war crimes in the Nuremberg Trials because he had a central role in fomenting the final solution.”

He flew to Berlin. Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, “If you expel them, they’ll come (to Palestine).” “So what should I do with them?” he asked. He said, “Burn them.”

What Netanyahu was claiming was that but for the intervention of the Palestinian Mufti, the Nazi’s would not have had the idea to physically eliminate the Jews.

This astounding thesis was asserted by Netanyahu as historical fact. It is astonishing given Netanyahu’s light treatment of Adolf Hitler’s role in the genesis of what many historians believe to be the planned extermination of European Jewry.

A question arises. If any other person had presented such a thesis before the public in a published book, an academic paper or in a speech at a public gathering, would they be subjected to criminal investigation in the jurisdictions of a number of Western European countries for an egregious instance of holocaust revisionism?

There are, of course, those such as the writer David Irving, prosecuted and convicted in Austria of holocaust denial laws, who claim that Hitler himself had no hand in any planned extermination of Europe’s Jews. There is, he argues, no signed official document containing Hitler’s personal order to embark on the systematic murder of Jews.

Netanyahu, himself the son of a renowned historian, is compromised in terms of the chronology that he presents. He may need to be reminded of two key speeches given by Hitler; one in 1939, and the other in 1941.

Standing before the Reichstag in January of 1939, Hitler declared that if what he termed as “international finance Jewry” were to plunge the nations of Europe into another war, the result would not be what he termed the “Bolshevization” of Europe and thereby the “victory of Jewry”, it would, he predicted, lead to the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.

The word ‘annihilation’, in German, ‘Vernichtung’, was again used by Hitler in a speech two years later before an audience at Berlin’s Sportpalast. Delivered in his characteristic firebrand style, Hitler stated that the war would not end as the “Jews imagined”, that is, in the extermination of the European Aryan peoples because others would not “bleed to death alone”. There would, he exploded, be an application of the ancient Jewish law: “Auge um auge, Zahn um zahn!” Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. He explicitly declared that the resulting war would lead to the annihilation of Jewry.

The first speech occurred in 1939 before the Mufti met Hitler in November of 1941, and there is no evidence that the latter, effectively a restatement of the former, was prompted by the meeting.

While Netanyahu seeks to delegitimize the Palestinian cause by association with Nazism, the history of the Zionist movement has not been without controversial connections with both Fascism and Nazism.

Indeed, Netanyahu as a die-hard Zionist with antecedents in the movement will need no reminder of the fact that his father, Benzion, served as the personal secretary of Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the leader of the Zionist Revisionist movement, who forged ideological links with the Italian fascist party led by Benito Mussolini.

His Betar Movement, a youth wing of the revisionist Zionists, established the Betar Naval Academy in the Italian port city of Civitavecchia in 1934. That Betar operated along a similar ideological construct is not in doubt. The following appeared in Bollettino del Consorzio Scuole Profesionali per la Maestranza Martima, the official publication of the Italian professional maritime schools:

In agreement of all the relevant authorities it has been confirmed that the views and the political and social inclinations of the revisionists are known and that they are absolutely in accordance with the fascist doctrine. Therefore, as our students they will bring the Italian and fascist culture to Palestine.

Netanyahu may or may not appreciate the reminder that Zionists entered into a pact with Adolf Hitler’s regime via the Ha’avara Agreement of August 1933. Also known as the ‘Transfer Agreement’, it was opposed by the vast majority of world Jewry who at the time favoured an economic boycott of Germany.

The agreement was predicated on the mutual desire of both Nazi party and Jewish Zionists to rid Germany of its Jewish population. A German Jew wishing to immigrate to Palestine would deposit money into a specified German bank account. These funds would then be used to buy German goods for export, usually to Palestine. The final phase of the transaction would have the Jewish émigré receiving payment for the goods they had previously purchased after their final sale.

And would Netanyahu need reminding of Avraham Stern’s proposed alliance with the Nazis during the Second World War? While most Zionists suspended hostilities against the British who they perceived as frustrating their efforts to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, the leader of Lohamei Herut Yisrael had the objective of forging a relationship with the Hitler government in order to give birth to what he termed a Volkish-national Hebrium. This would establish, he hoped, “the historical Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis”.

Both Jabotinsky and Stern serve as ideological heirs of the modern Likud Party which Netanyahu leads. Yitzhak Shamir, a former leader of Likud was a key figure in the ‘Stern Gang’ which waged a war of terror against both British and Arabs.

Netanyahu’s ideological antecedents also includes the figure of Menachem Begin. Begin, like Shamir a former leader of Likud, was the founder of the Herut Party in 1948. It was a development which prompted a group of far-sighted Jewish academics including Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt to write an open letter to the New York Times declaring that Israel would eventually head down a path which legitimized “ultra-nationalism, religious mysticism and racial superiority.”

This prophecy of sorts is arguably not far behind the prevailing mood of contemporary Israel which has lurched to the political Right during Netanyahu’s terms as prime minister. Netanyahu himself has no problem declaring that the phenomenon of African migrants, who are referred to as ‘infiltrators’, threatened Israel’s “social fabric” and needed to be expelled.

He was also clearly observed to be pandering to anti-Arab sentiment during the Israeli general election last March when he claimed that “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves”.

Netanyahu’s assertions regarding the Mufti’s meeting with Hitler fall into a similar hue. His comments again show the opportunism he is apt at indulging. His distortion of history fits into Nicolas Sarkozy’s opinion, confided to US President Barack Obama, that he is a “liar”.

Netanyahu continually incites hatred for Palestinians and solicits perpetual gentile guilt for the tragedy suffered by the Jewish people in the middle part of the 20th Century.

While Netanyahu’s comments fit into a narrative of Islam and fascism continually spun by those wishing to promote the idea of ‘Islamo-Fascism’, they are ultimately aimed at discrediting Palestinian hopes of securing a state of their own.

The two-state solution to the enduring conflict remains as intractable as it has ever been. The increase in Jewish settler communities in the West Bank dampens any chances that a Palestinian state would ever be allowed to exist. The belief that the West Bank is part of Eretz Israel; component parts of the ancient Hebrew kingdoms of Judah and Israel that today are referred to as Judea and Samaria, is not limited to religious Jews.

By seeking to single out a Palestinian nationalist figure as the author of the Jewish holocaust, Netanyahu is attempting to indoctrinate the world with the idea that the Jewish state can never exist side-by-side with a Palestinian one.

It is part and parcel of preparing the ground for the solution which Netanyahu will not publicly disclose; namely that continued Israeli actions of land acquisition, settler colonisation, economic strangulation as well as punitive military expeditions will convince the Palestinians of the utter hopelessness of their situation and force them to migrate out of the territories in which they reside.

Failing this and at the prompting of some future extraordinary conflict, it is not difficult to imagine that the likes of Netanyahu would use the cover of such crisis to complete the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians begun in 1948, by purging the inhabitants en masse from the West Bank.

Before his death in 1940, Jabotinsky claimed that “the world has become accustomed to the idea of mass migrations and has become fond of them”, adding later that “Hitler –as odious as he is to us- has given this idea a good name in the world.”

From an historical perspective, the leaders of Zionism have been remarkably shrewd at masking their true intentions which are then revealed at later, opportune moments.

For instance, a few days after the conclusion of the inaugural Zionist Congress held in at the end of August of 1897 in Basel Switzerland, the president of the congress and the man seen as the founder of the modern Zionist movement, Theodore Herzl, recorded the following in his diary:

Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word – which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly – it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today I would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it.

Chaim Weizmann, who later would become the first president of the Israeli state, once assured an Arab leader that “the Jews did not propose to set up a government of their own but wished to work under British protection to colonize and develop Palestine without encroaching on any legitimate interests.”

Benzion Netanyahu once admitted that his son had no genuine intention of offering Palestinian leaders any conditions they would feel able to accept as a pre-condition to the establishment of a state. Indeed, when earlier this year Netanyahu had stated, “If I am elected, there will be no Palestinian state”, he was admitting what he and his predecessors of every political stripe knew to be the case but would not utter in public.

His support for the proposition that Israel adopt a basic law designating it as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” offered clarification of his true goals and intentions.

Severe criticism of Netanyahu, while tolerated over the years by many Israelis and Jews as somewhat inevitable because of the perception of arrogance in his personal style and complex political personality, is nonetheless beginning to be seen in these times of rising anti-Israel sentiments, by an increasing number of Israelis and Jews as a convenient tool by which anti-Semites may express their views.

Yet, many of his supporters would be hard pressed to defend the matter of his historical revision. Not if, as some including Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog have claimed that his words effectively gave succour to ‘holocaust deniers’.

The statement issued by Saeb Erekat, the Secretary General of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, sums things up fairly accurately:

It is a sad day in history when the leader of the Israeli government hates his neighbour so much that he is willing to absolve the most notorious war criminal in history, Adolf Hitler, of the murder of six million Jews.

A sad day indeed, but also one symptom of a political philosophy that thrives on the projection of victimhood, the perpetuating of Gentile guilt and which continues to harbour its long-term aim of replacing what had been the land of Palestine with a purely Jewish state.

(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2015)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

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